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The City Concealed
The City Concealed, an online video series exploring the unseen corners of New York. Visit the places you don’t know exist, locations you can’t get into, or maybe don’t even want to. Each installment unearths New York’s rich history in the city’s hidden remains and overlooked spaces.

Kehila Kedosha Janina: The Last Greek Synagogue

Tucked away on the corner of Broome and Allen Street on the Lower East Side, a relatively hidden historical treasure makes its home. The last Greek synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, Kehila Kedosha Janina remains a gathering place for the Romaniote Jews (Greek Jews) of the city nearly a century after its construction in 1927.

A minority within a minority, the Romaniotes are unknown to most Greeks, who are predominantly Greek Orthodox. When I mentioned the existence of Greek Jews to my grandmother, who hails from the not-so-bustling Greek island of Nisyros, she seemed stunned, to say the least. Which is why, perhaps more than any other reason, the presence of Archbishop Demetrios – the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America – at the opening of the synagogue’s exhibit “Dikoi Mas, Los Muestros” on Greek-Jewish Families this past Sunday (running through late October 2011) was so significant.  (See a gallery of the exhibit opening event below).

Born in Thessaloniki, the Archbishop was well aware of the presence and history of Jews in Greece. As he addressed the congregation, he recalled a Jewish French teacher he had growing up, and the “empty space” and sadness left behind by his Jewish neighbors who were lost in the Holocaust, including a schoolmate of his. He thanked the congregation for preserving their own memories, and encouraged the young people to keep the culture alive.

“Dikoi Mas, Los Muestros” is an exhibit dedicated to Greek-Jewish families, but, more specifically, to Kehila Kedosha Janina’s community, who are featured throughout. I watched as several generations came together for the exhibit to honor their common history and share memories of times past. With the Romaniotes’ traditional Greek music playing (and the smell of burekas and spanakopita nearby), it became clear to me how unique this small group really is. Small, but thriving – and hopefully here to stay.

—Michelle Michalos, associate producer


  • comments (34)
  • Rhoda Elison Hirsch

    This is a link to the history of New York City, a link to a Greek-Judeo culture that is still thriving, and a link to the extraordinary cultural diversity of Jewish people. Congratulations on this feature.

  • Syla and Arnie

    ANOTHER WONDERFUL LINK TO OUR PEOPLE IN NEW YORK CITY. KEEP THEM COMING.

  • Solomon

    This is another splendid example of what a complex mixture of cultures we have in our great city.
    Long may it thrive!

  • CAROLA ISAK

    NOVEMBER 17, 2010

    HI,
    ALTHOUGH I STILL RESIDE ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS EXHIBIT. WHAT IS THE CHARGE FOR SEEING THIS? WHAT ARE THE DATES FOR SEEING THIS?

    I AM OF POLISH & SPANISH jEWS, BUT INTERESTED IN ANY/AND ALL THINGS ABOUT OUR PEOPLE, THE JEWS. THANKS

  • Fiona

    Carola, this isn’t an “exhibit.” Kehila Kedosha Janina is an active synagogue, not a museum.

  • Jack D.Attias

    Alot of history here. I used to come down from the Bronx when I was a kid for “adaroth”. I’m very aware of my Judeo Greek origins. My mother and her family were from Janina. I vistited my roots several times. I saw the house my Mom was born in. My Dad came from Candia (Iraklion) Crete, which no longer has a Jewish presence. I must add our culture is a mixture of Hebrew, Greek & Turkish. The Greek I learned from my grandmother Stamoula was loaded with Turkish! I love Greek & Turkish Music! Cuisine is great!

  • Leucippe

    a terrific presentation. I’ve known about Romaniote Jews for a long time (and even am acquainted with a few). It’s a great tradition. The tragedy under the Nazis that befell the Jews of Janina ought to be better known. And if one is interested in Greek Jews, check out the Etz-Hayyim synagogue in Hania, Crete. http://www.etz-hayyim-hania.org/
    It’s a wonderful restoration (even though it was vandalized by arsonists TWICE last year).

  • Richard Braun

    We visited Hania (Crete) last summer and found the synagogue there to be kept alive by a group of Jews and non-Jews, seeking to maintain a Jewish presence. Since then it has been vandalized but they are detemined to restore and maintain it.

  • Ian Thal

    Very interesting. Family lore says that my Lettish-Litvak Jewish family lived on Broome Street (My grandfather was born there in 1899.) Though there is never been any mention of encounters with Romaniote Jews. When did the Romaniote community become a major presence in the neighborhood?

  • David M. Brothers, M.D.

    Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it… George Santayana

  • lwetter

    Beyond most interesting. I had no idea. This just goes to show me how diverse NYC really is. This is treasured Judaic history.

  • andreas koutsoufis

    I am of Greek origin, was born inside the Castro on the Island of Rhodes, in the Turkish quarter. When I last visited by birthplace, I discovered the that there also is a Jewish quarter in the old Castro and they have provided access to the Jewish Library as well as other significant architectural buildings in the Castro that the Knights of St. John built during one of the Crusades. How different we all are and yet share many cultural habits,cuisine, etc. We should all celebrate our humanity and try to put aside our differences!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Peter Poulos

    When you mention that the existence of Greek Jews is unknown to most Greeks, which Greeks are you referring to besides your grandmother? Greeks are well aware of the presence and history of Greek Jews, both Sephardic and Romaniote. The next time your in Greece allow me to introduce you to some Greeks (even random people you meet on the street) who won’t be “stunned” when you mention Greek Jews.

  • Ronnie Slatcher

    The synagogue provides a wonderful group tour including lunch for a very nominal fee which you can learn about by clicking on the above link. I took this tour in September and spent a very pleasant afternoon and would highly recommend it to both Sephardics and non-Sephardics alike. Marcia Haddad-Ikonomopoulis, Museum Director, conducted the tour and provided the lunch alone as her assistant couldn’t be there that day and she was incredible. She is most knowledgeable and explained all the artifacts (and there were many) that are housed in the museum and answered all questions put to her in a most pleasant and humorous way. As a Sephardic (Spanish) Jew who grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn our “people” were closely related to the Greek Jews who also lived there and many “intermarried.” It was very nostalgic for me.

  • Isaak Dostis

    Wonderful! Thank you…

  • Rose Eskononts

    Kehila Kedosha Janina has been a part of my life since 1954, when my husband to be, Murray, had his “oufruf” there. He lived across the street and, coincidentally, was born the same year as the building was erected! Murray was First Vice President under Hy Genee’s presidency, and was indeed very proud of our affiliation with the Kehila. I was elected President of the Sisterhood of Janina in 1987 and have been on the Board of Directors since the inception of a Board. Marcia Ikonomopoulos, as Museum Director, has done an exceptional job with out Museum, instituting the luncheon tours mentioned above, creating and mounting extraordinary exhibits which show the diversity of our people, both Sephardic and Romaniote. It’s lovely that Channel 13 visited us and, with this video, has shown the world that in a little corner of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, there is a piece of history that is still vibrant and flourishing amidst an ever changing neighborhood.

  • Eliza

    Thank you for this wonderful information about the extent of our Diaspora.
    We shall survive!!!

  • Marcia Ikonomopoulos

    My thanks to Channel 13 and the professional job that made this video possible.

  • Marjory

    Marcia or Rose, do you know if this can be downloaded? My aunt Sue wants to see this but she doesn’t have an internet connection for me to use with my laptop. Thanks…

  • rose schonberger

    great.i learned something today.

  • Bijan Rezvani

    Marjory, this can be downloaded.
    You can subscribe to The City Concealed podcast using the feed http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheCityConcealedThirteen or iTunes link http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-city-concealed-thirteen/id343870610 .

    For better quality you can download an HD file at http://vimeo.com/16765313 (link on lower right).

  • Dr. Sam Menahem

    I have been inside the synagogue many times. I am a romaniote Jew. They have a holocaust Greek Jew museum inside. My father’s store, Wyse Wear was on Broome St.-just the other side of Allen!

  • Holly

    I was thrilled to see this piece. While I am have both Ashkenazi and Sephardic roots (grandparents from Poland and Greece), I have the wonderful experience of attending two bar mitzvahs at this landmark kehila.

  • Jasmin

    Thank you for putting together this segment. My grandmother is a descendant of the Colchamiro family. Marcia has been instrumental in helping our family organize a large family tree, and at the core is the information provided by Kehilla Kedosha.

  • Stella Fortios Bennardellos

    my grandmother was from Jannina and I was brought up on Broome St. directly accross from the snynogue.
    what a treasure it is.

  • Sheldon Greenspan

    As an Askenazi Jew, I see KKJ as representative of our diversity as Jews. This wonderful and vibrant community is not a dowdy museum, but a place of embracing love and joy. There are shabbat services weekly, and all holidays are celebrated. My visits there on shabbat leave me with a very special sense of place in the world. When I am welcomed there my heart is full with feelings of belonging to something very important and valuable. KKJ is a precious jewel. Come and pray. Come and see.

  • Linda Bencangey Goldstein (Cantos & Battino)

    We have a unique history and I am proud of my ancestry as a Greek Jew. I grew up on Delancey near Orchid. And I used to go to this synagogue with my family as a child.

  • nathan cantos

    I am a romaniote, my uncle was rabbi youslah levy, my dad waqs avraham cantos,

  • Leonard M. Naphtali

    I was surprised to se my cousins names on the comments, and hope we can communicate more often.
    I am also a romaniote.

  • T. Cipolla

    In the end we are all Greeks. As a Christian, I have many friends who are Jewish. Greek Jews are a minority, but definitely not unknown. I wish the world would look away from their faiths and just accept people for who they are and how they go about their daily lives.

  • Barouch Levy

    I am a Romniote Jew, though the majority of my life, i would never have identified myself as such. My grandfather ,Morris Levy ,and my grandmother ,Louisa (Koufina) came to N.Y. about 100 yeqrs ago. My grandfather had a grocery store of imported Mediterranean foods. My grandmother lived in N.Y. until her death in 1968 (civil calender). My father, Louis Levy,grew up in Wiliamsburg ,and latter moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. If anyone knew my family ,or better yet, is my family, please contact me or my father.

  • Lynda Ehrich

    My maternal grandmother, Dinah Bendjouya (Bernard) was a Sephardic Jew whose family had emigrated from Greece when she was three, and she lived in Brooklyn from that time onward until her death. It’s so wonderful to feel this connection. I live in Florida now and will probably never get to see this wonderful synagogue, but I’m sure my grandma was aware of its existence and may have even attended. Thank you for this.

  • Lynda Ehrich

    (gasp) I just took a second look at the email my son sent me. My grandma’s maiden name was Negrin, and HER mother’s maiden name was Colchamiro. I had absolutely no idea Colchamiro Family figured so prominently into all this.

  • john vasilakos

    I went there watching a documentary about the history of Greek Jewry;a few yrs. ago. More needs to be done waking up the Greek-American Community;to the unique;and tragic history of Greek-Jewry,and to their vast contributions to Hellas;America;and to Humanity. God Bless the Greek-Jews.